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Troubled Middle Tenn. Youth Facility making Changes

Woodland Hills Youth Development Center

Officials at a troubled Middle Tennessee youth detention center believe beefed-up security and changes in the facility’s behavior modification program will help prevent future rioting and escapes.Reporters were invited Thursday to take a tour of Woodland Hills in Nashville, where more than 30 teenagers escaped on Sept. 1.

All were eventually recaptured. That escape was the first of three major incidents at the facility in September. There also was a riot in the yard and another breakout in which 13 teens escaped.

Since then, the center has used concrete to reinforce the bottom of the fence that surrounds the facility and incorporated other security measures.

The facility’s behavior modification program has also been changed to a more incentive-based program and less of a punitive model.

Haslam Taps Boyd to Lead Economic Development

PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2014, file photo, Randy Boyd, center speaks at an education summit called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville, Tenn. Gov. Haslam named Boyd as his new commissioner of economic and community development on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Gov. Bill Haslam has named former higher education adviser Randy Boyd to become his new commissioner of economic development.

Boyd is the founder and CEO of Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., a privately owned maker of technology-based pet products like PetSafe and Invisible Fence.

Boyd in 2009 co-founded tnAchieves, a nonprofit scholarship organization that has helped pay the full community college tuition for more than 10,000 high school graduates, and that became a model for Haslam’s free tuition program.

In 2013, Boyd become a full-time unpaid adviser to Haslam on higher education initiatives, and helped develop the governor’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve college graduation rates from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Boyd succeeds Bill Hagerty, who announced he was stepping down last month.

Chickamauga Lock to be Replaced

After years of political wrangling in Washington, money should soon become available to replace the crumbling Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga. The Senate this week passed a new funding formula for the Army Corps of Engineers. A higher diesel fuel tax imposed on commercial barge operators is expected to pump some $40 million into the inland waterways trust fund. A taxpayer match will be used to build new locks and dams on the nation’s rivers. The Chickamauga lock, built in the 1930’s is crumbling due to a chemical reaction between water and concrete. Work to replace the facility has been stalled for the past decade for lack of funding. Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says the lock must be replaced. He says closure would stop commercial and recreational travel up river to Knoxville and would ding the east state economy.

TBI Resumes Investigation

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says it has resumed investigations in the five-county judicial district where the high-profile death of a 20-year-old nursing student is being prosecuted.
The TBI announced Wednesday it was suspending investigations there as the result of a disagreement with District Attorney General Matt Stowe.

But Thursday night, the agency issued a release saying it was resuming work in the district and that Stowe has requested a special prosecutor to handle the nursing student’s case.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn said Wednesday that Stowe alleged misconduct by the TBI and other law enforcement agencies.

Stowe denied he asked the TBI to suspend investigations in the district, which includes Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin and Henry counties.

A message left at Stowe’s office was not immediately returned Thursday evening.

Tennessee Leads in Health Care Funding

Tennessee is well prepared to handle an outbreak of disease such as Ebola. This according to a study released Thursday by the trust for America’s health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report says Tennessee ranks high among other states for health care funding. Vaccination levels for children and delivery of flu shots. It also stands out for efforts to control health care acquired infections and food safety. Four other states scored eight out of a ten point measure for preparedness. Half of the states scored five or lower. Arkansas ranked last with a score of two while Kentucky got three.

Unemployment Rates Improve

Tennessee’s unemployment rate continues to improve, but still remains above the national average. The jobless rate dropped by 3/10 a percent to 6.8 percent in November. That’s the lowest rate since June. Employers have added nearly 54,000 jobs this year. Tennessee’s unemployment rate started falling faster than the national rate in August-a trend that continued last month. University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox says Tennessee is finally enjoying month to month job growth since the great recession of 2008. He says the drop in oil prices should help in the job recovery.